Ohio’s school districts may see testing changes due to pandemic


State Senators Teresa Fedor (left) (D-Toledo) and Nathan Manning (right) (R-North Ridgeville) co-sponsor bipartisan Senate Bill 358. The bill will only affect the 2020-2021 school year.

By Ally Gallagher

The Ohio Senate is considering a bipartisan bill that would seek a waiver of federal school testing requirements, freeze Ohio’s school report card program and extend teacher and principal evaluation and student promotions. All of this would allow for more graduation flexibility. 

Co-sponsored by State Sens. Nathan Manning (R–North Ridgeville) and Teresa Fedor (D–Toledo), Senate Bill 358 is designed to provide relief to school districts that have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The proposed changes would be enacted immediately and serve through the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year.

The Senate bill would extend provisions made in House Bills 164 and 197, which were passed in March to provide families and schools with emergency support amid the pandemic.

Though the bill would only freeze some parts of the state report card system, Fedor said it is a compromise. 

“While I would support a complete freeze on the issuance of any report card data for next school year,” Fedor said. “The freeze on grades and sanctions included in Senate Bill 358 is the compromise.”

Senate Bill 358 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee, but likely will not be voted on until after Nov. 3.

According to the fiscal note and local impact statement drafted by the Legislative Services Commission, the bill will decrease state testing and direct administrative costs.

Fedor said the time and money saved can then be budgeted for other uses during this time.

“Money and time saved by not testing for the sake of testing can be used for teaching, counseling and ensuring the health of our students during a pandemic,” Fedor said.

Rather than relying on the results from the standardized state tests, Fedor said districts will rely more on the teachers to evaluate students. 

“We need to trust teachers and provide them with the space to focus on the social, emotional and educational well-being of their students, instead of focusing on inaccurate grades and ratings,” Fedor said.

The Talawanda School District is in support of the bill, said Holli Morrish, director of communications and public relations. But, the district’s support for canceling state testing goes beyond this year’s concerns surrounding coronavirus. The district’s stance is that the level of testing in general, pandemic or not, is too high and inadequately measures schools’ and students’ progress.

“We don’t believe that that’s in the best interest of kids,” Morrish said. “And we also don’t believe that a test can capture that kid’s performance on that one day of the school year.” 

Morrish said the standardized testing trend began in the 1990’s with proficiency tests, but has since escalated to an “unbelievable number of testing requirements per student.”

According to the Ohio Department of Education, some of the current state tests include the Early Learning Assessment, Kindergarten Readiness Assessment and state tests in English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies. There are also additional standardized tests, like the English Language Proficiency Assessment (OELPA), dependent upon the student.

Fedor said these tests can’t provide the same understanding of learning and student progress as teachers can.

“In reality, teachers get a far more accurate understanding of their students’ needs by interacting with their students than they ever will learn from these state assessments,” Fedor said.

About 60% of teachers in the Talawanda district have their master’s degree in teaching and, therefore, should not need such constant evaluation, Morrish said. 

“Master teachers are just that — master teachers. Well-educated, well-credentialed, lots of experience,” Morrish said. “They are professionals that are trained to assess students, and we have to put our trust in them.”

Senate Bill 358, if passed, would only affect the 2020-2021 school year, but could open the door for more changes to the education system and testing requirements in the future.

“It is time for a system that values teaching and learning, rather than testing and evaluating,” Fedor said.